Are ‘facts’ about gun crimes truth, or off tar­get?

The Covington News - - OPINION - Bar­bara Mor­gan is a Cov­ing­ton res­i­dent with a back­ground in news­pa­per jour­nal­ism, state govern­ment and pol­i­tics. She can be reached at

Much of what passes for an­cient and in­fal­li­ble wis­dom comes from oral his­tory tra­di­tions, some cred­ited to “old wives.”

“They” in­sisted that eat­ing within an hour be­fore swim­ming in­creases the risk of mus­cle cramps or drown­ing, That the­ory has been dis­proved.

Eat­ing crusts would curl your hair. Not. Throw­ing salt over your left shoul­der would ban­ish the devil that sits on it. Oh, I wish. Hair and nails grow af­ter death; no, they don’t. Sleep­walk­ers can be harmed if awak­ened. Not so.

His­tory is rife with mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions and mis­con­cep­tions that facts belie, but it’s so easy to just keep the tales go­ing be­cause the truth takes a lit­tle work and the fa­bles are more fun. I checked Wikipedia and found a well-doc­u­mented wealth of myths widely held to be truth­ful but now known to be false.

For in­stance, what caused the Great Chicago Fire of 1871? I know the an­swer: Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lantern. No, that was just some news­pa­per­man try­ing to en­hance his copy with­out a speck of truth. Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton had wooden teeth, didn’t he? Nope. His teeth were made of gold, lead, hip­popota­mus ivory, and hu­man, horse and don­key teeth.

Pub­lic schools still teach, I think, that the first thanks­giv­ing in North Amer­ica was in Ply­mouth Colony, but it was the Spa­niards who marked the first thanks­giv­ing in St. Au­gus­tine, Fla., in 1565. A 19th cen­tury writer, who long cham­pi­oned a national thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day, cre­ated the story of the Pil­grims in Ply­mouth Colony.

We all know — with cer­tainty — the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence was signed July 4, 1776, but only the fi­nal lan­guage of the doc­u­ment was ap­proved that day; it was printed and dis­trib­uted on the Fourth and Fifth, and signed on Aug. 2, 1776.

Had that date been pro­mul­gated, it would make the story of Thomas Jef­fer­son and John Adams dy­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously on July 4, 1826, a bit less in­ter­est­ing.

The Great Wall of China can­not be seen from outer space, con­trary to what we think, and the Vik­ings did not wear horns on their hel­mets. House­flies live 20-30 days, not just 24 hours. Sushi doesn’t mean raw fish, but rather soured or vine­gar rice. Sun­flow­ers don’t track the path of the sun across the sky. The sweat glands of dogs aren’t in their tongues but in the pads of their feet. Os­triches don’t hide their heads in the sand. Bulls are not en­raged by the color red, only by the mata­dor’s men­ac­ing moves.

Franken­stein isn’t the name of the mon­ster in the novel or the films, but the last name of its fic­tional cre­ator, Vic­tor Franken­stein.

Colum­bus didn’t dis­cover Amer­ica, only some Caribbean is­lands, but a fel­low named Leif Eric­son found North Amer­ica when he dis­cov­ered New­found­land. Marco Polo is said to have im­ported pasta to Italy from China, but cen­turies be­fore his trav­els, Arabs brought it into Italy when they at­tacked Si­cily in the 7th Cen­tury.

Marie An­toinette never said of the starv­ing peas­ants: “Let them eat cake.” There is no sci­en­tific ev­i­dence of a pho­to­graphic mem­ory. Sugar doesn’t cause hy­per­ac­tiv­ity in chil­dren, even those with AD/HD, stud­ies show.

We live our lives finely bal­anced be­tween truth and fic­tion, fact and fan­tasy.

Some stud­ies in re­cent years have found many — too many — of us be­lieve the proven fal­la­cies when they sup­port our own opin­ions, even when those fal­la­cious be­liefs don’t serve our most press­ing needs and wel­fare.

For some very strange rea­son, fic­tion is more palat­able than fact.

I’m one of those when it comes to gun crimes. The facts say vi­o­lent crime and gun-re­lated crimes have de­clined since their mid-1990s peak, but 50 per­cent of Amer­i­cans be­lieve they’re up.

Gun sales are dizzy­ing in many places, even af­ter we saw the Gabrielle Gif­fords shoot­ing, the Colorado the­ater shoot­ing and the Sandy Hook el­e­men­tary school car­nage.

We hear daily of out­ra­geous crimes in­volv­ing guns: the teen who shot a baby in his face; bored teens who shot an Aus­tralian base­ball player in the back; an in­tended killer armed with 500 rounds of ammo who en­tered an el­e­men­tary school in De­catur last week.

Wed­nes­day, a preschooler with a loaded gun in his back­pack showed up at his Spald­ing County school. The school “called the par­ents” and “the stu­dent was dis­ci­plined.”

Far bet­ter that the par­ents were dis­ci­plined. The child didn’t pack his own back­pack.

I don’t and won’t be­lieve that wide­spread gun own­er­ship is any de­ter­rent to the po­ten­tial for dis­as­trous out­comes ev­ery day when so many guns are float­ing around in the wrong hands.

I feel no safer just be­cause some­one down the street has an arse­nal in his home.


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